The Orioles must balance an ongoing rebuild with a major league roster that suddenly looks competitive

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Being an Orioles fan hasn’t been this fun in a while. The team is in the midst of a league-best winning streak, has a .500 record in sight and has somehow clawed its way back into the playoff picture, sitting just two games away from the game. last place AL Wild Card. These are the good times. So why can’t some people stop talking about dismantling this team?

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote that the Orioles could still “buy” at the deadline even though they weren’t in contention. Forgive me, it was a pre-win streak and I hadn’t anticipated the Orioles’ imminent dominance. At that time, I was pushing for the Orioles to target pitchers with years of control while being willing to admit that trading Trey Mancini and a high-performing bullpen arm made a lot of sense. After all, the O’s were well out of the playoff talk at the time, and this presented an opportunity to get something for an expiring contract and sell high on a variable-relief arm.

But it is impossible to deny that circumstances have changed. Their playoff chances may still be relatively slim (FanGraphs gives the Orioles a 1.3% chance of making the playoffs), but they do exist. And considering the team is 36-30 since May 1, it’s been more than a hot week in baseball. These guys can actually be quite good.

That information didn’t sway The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, who wrote an article this week about the potential swaps. He mentioned the Orioles twice, first sending Jorge López and Félix Bautista to the Twins in exchange for pitching prospect Simeon Woods Richardson, then Trey Mancini to the Mets for two pitching prospects, Dominic Hamel and Calvin Ziegler.

MLB Trade Rumors has compiled its list of the top 50 trade candidates, and it includes six Orioles: Mancini, López, Jordan Lyles, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins. However, they admit it would take a long time for the O’s to consider a Hays or Mullins trade.

The trade deadline is still three weeks away, so it’s time for the narrative to change again. But if the Orioles keep knocking on the playoff door, it would be hard to come to terms with another big sale at the deadline.

In particular, it would be difficult to deal with a Mancini trade which, as MLBTR notes, “will not be well received at the clubhouse” and “the return will likely disappoint fans”, although Bowden’s proposed package of two pitchers from the first three rounds of last year’s draft are intriguing to say the least. Even still, it calls into question why the Orioles would do it even if there was the option of keeping your franchise face and having fun in September instead.

It’s a similar line of thought when it comes to a move involving any of the non-outfielders who might be on the block. Players like Lyles would seem to provide a very useful skill set to the Orioles while possessing modest commercial value, and relievers like López or Dillon Tate are players with years of control and a relatively limited track record of success. Would the potential return credibly fill the organizational void they left behind?

As for the outfielders, Mullins and Hays seem like parts to build rather than sell for parts. They’re young enough and under team control long enough to be key cogs in a competitive Orioles team come next season. Santander is one season short of team control and is arguably the most replaceable member of the outfield with Kyle Stowers waiting in the wings. But trading one of them now for in the offseason wouldn’t seem to significantly impact their value and would instead serve to disrupt an established chemistry.

Elias didn’t really allude to either when speaking with the media over the weekend, saying only that the team is making moves considering it’s “the right thing to do for the health of the Orioles franchise”. Sounds like a hearty way of saying almost every player is available at the right price, which makes sense even though the biased fan in me secretly wants Mancini to be given a lifetime contract to stay with the club.

Make no mistake, this roster has some obvious holes, especially on the infield and in the starting rotation. And given the general landscape of where the Orioles exist compared to some of the league’s behemoths, it wouldn’t make sense for them to sell the farm and go “all in” on this roster, either. Maybe they could bottle up some magic to sneak in as wild cards, but a deep playoff run seems nigh impossible. The end goal of the Elias-led rebuild was to build a World Series contender and a “pipeline” of minor league talent. Although they seem to have reached the latter, the former is still a bit down the road.

At the same time, it’s not unrealistic to think that the 2022 Orioles aren’t in their final shape yet. If recent performances are any indication, DL Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and Terrin Vavra could be in Baltimore within the month. There’s a chance that Grayson Rodriguez will return to the mound before the end of the season. Of course, that’s no reason for the Orioles to rush any of them, but if the front office thinks a quick move to the big guys is beneficial before a full 2023 debut, then as long as worse. This experience would be amplified if it showed up in games that kept some weight on the stretch.

It’s a balancing act that Elias and his front office have to manage. They must determine which route they deem the most “valuable”. They can dive into the trade market, offload a veteran or two and add a marginal amount of talent to the organization, or they can stay stable and give this roster a chance to show what they can do. Neither way seems to have a significant impact on the future of the organization, and one is a lot more fun than the other.

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